So that means yes, I’ve seen the film before in parts. I honestly thought that Glenda Jackson as Mary’s rival Queen Elizabeth I in this film, was the best in show. The way her head and hands move when she’s thinking up a plot to offer her own lover, Sir Robert Dudley, to Mary is fascinating. The first act of the film shows her driving the plot instead of being passive within it. When the rejected Dudley talks about how Mary has charmed him, Elizabeth also gets physically aggressive. Which is fun to watch.
Elizabeth almost steals the show because of the damage done when Mary repeatedly cries out ‘Francois,’ to her dead husband King Francis II. Mary sounds girly, lovesick, dependent. In a way, my fears about the character getting stuck like this has become true, Mary becoming a queen who’s repeatedly imprisoned by her enemies, never becoming a woman and person in her own right. Redgrave keeps pace with those plot points by giving her character a vitality – a woman in her mid-30’s convincingly portraying the youthful obliviousness of someone ten years younger or more. That, nonetheless, is a better portrayal than the saintly inhuman interpretation of Mary in an earlier John Ford film in 1936.
Of course, those two characters grow up. Elizabeth wants to survive and still holds grudges but won’t use her ruthlessness to even imprison and execute the woman who also happens to be her cousin. She feels sorry for having to send Mary to Forthingray. Mary repeats the same adulterous mistake with a Lord Bothwell that Elizabeth has made with Lord Dudley – Elizabeth suspected of murdering Dudley’s wife, Mary accused of murdering her own king consort for and with Bothwell. She isn’t convincing when she says that she has made peace with her God and pities Elizabeth. She nonetheless carries on to her beauty and dignity, fighting fer her crown till the end.
Mary’s story isn’t told in film with such frequency as Elizabeth’s, the latter being told in film or television every decade. It’s probably because Elizabeth, as an English Queen and one who has reigned for decades and made the kingdom into a superpower, whereas Mary’s seems like the story of an outsider, even if she is the matriarch of England’s future kings. Elizabeth’s is always shown as a victory, whereas Mary’s shows victory and defeat in both sides, which interests me more.